London’s nickname isn’t as ubiquitous as The Big Apple or The City of Lights, but The Big Smoke is a clunky city, a confederation of neighborhoods that used to be towns tied together with string. Loving London is not anything new. Samuel Johnson said that a person who is tired of London is tired of life. Read Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net while chasing buses in Hackney; it’s as much a caper as it is a map of the city. Damon Albarn wanted to call the Parklife album London but luckily someone talked him out of it.
Start with the small things: a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon, a pound coin, a red telephone booth whose insides are rotting from disuse. You’ll find the city the way so many other travelers and migrants did, from the street. Those neighborhoods and museums and attractions start to fit together like fragments of reshaped glass. It’s all a bridge, all of it. This is the place where the bombs were dropped. It’s a kind of shorthand now, the new buildings next to the old ones, a code that everybody knows.
Five weeks to scratch away. Five weeks of gray mornings and gray afternoons and the whole city spilling itself open in front of you. And the concepts are words now, the notions are places. But the pound coin thrown in the donation box at the airport is the truth, it means you’re not going back. By now, you’re used to going to the curb and looking right, but everything has turned back the other way again.